Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Before and After


Election 2008 - anticipation, apprehension or apathy?

Election fever in the US is gaining momentum, and while the US citizens excitedly debate and weigh their options, it’s a little quiet on this side of the globe with the Superpower’s ally also preparing to vote a new government into power on February 18, 2008. In fact, the excitement at this end is conspicuous by its absence.

True democracy has always been an elusive dream for Pakistan – promised but never delivered. The brief stints by the political parties edged in between the periods of military rule caused further deterioration of the system and did little to bring prosperity to the general public – basically, the civilian and the military governments have proven to be the classic ‘carrot and stick’ for the citizens of Pakistan. Survival has been their main concern while the bigger players set their own rules in the games they played at the expense of the national exchequer.

The year 2007 will be remembered not only for the judicial crisis and media curbs but also as a sad year with sounds of blasts reverberating in the background of our memory landscape and body parts scattered like debris in the foreground. The spate of violence that followed the popular PPP leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on Dec 27, 2007 rode straight into 2008 – the year the new government was to herald a new beginning. The election scheduled for February 18, 2008 seems to hold little promise for this crises-prone country.

The relative calm of the pre-election phase is worth pondering. The reason the political parties seem to show a bit of tolerance for one another is probably born out of fear that the elections might be postponed indefinitely otherwise and that would serve no one’s purpose. Secondly, many people lost their lives in the suicide bomb attacks in the last year. As the election date draws near, the relative calm is starting to give way and campaigners are targeted and killed – the latest being the attack in Parachinar at the PPP-sponsored rally killing 46 of those present and injuring another 110. Although more than 200,000 security personnel have been deployed at all the sensitive areas to ensure a peaceful election, the voter is discouraged by these disturbing developments – already fatigued and left with little energy, battling multiple crises. A general feeling of apathy may also have set in – disappointment with those at the helm of affairs being at its worst and expectation at its lowest – knowing that the change of faces does not necessarily improve their lot.

As for the post-election situation, popular opinion polls focusing on current election campaigns of major parties have already shown PPP as being the favourite mainly due to the sympathy vote generated by Bhutto’s assassination. PML-N and the PPP are ready to form a coalition government after the election. On the other hand, PML-Q allying with the President is seen to hold an advantage for already having a foot inside the government; although President Musharraf has categorically stated: "I guarantee that these [elections] will be free and fair." The opposition parties doubt the sincerity of his assertions and openly accuse him of planning to execute massive rigging. The recent report released by Human Rights Watch quoting the Attorney General Malik Qayyum of massive rigging planned by the government does not help the government’s cause at all.

This election is also being viewed by some political analysts as a useless exercise – a waste of the sum of Rs. 200 billion spent on conducting an election whose outcome is likely to fall apart within six months. If PML-Q loses, would the President accept the result with the ‘grace’ that he advocates the losing parties show, even though he is aware that a hostile parliament would almost surely seek his ouster? The new COAS, General Kiyani, is not likely to allow his predecessor to reign in the opposition with the military’s help as has been done in the past. As a result, it might jeopardize the perceived cohesion between the Army Chief and the President’s office. If on the other hand the King’s Party (PML-Q) does win, the opposition is expected to use the rigging-card and carry out a full-fledged agitation campaign – a no-win situation, either way.

Whether the players would show maturity and think of the wider national interest rather than personal victories remains to be seen. One thing is for certain: tough times leaden with tough choices are knocking.

Published Mar 2008,  Before and After  in SouthAsia Magazine

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